Motion Picture Association of America
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The MPAA film rating system is a system used in the United States to rate a movie based on its content. It is one of various film rating systems used to help audiences decide which films may be appropriate for children. The system was instituted in 1968 and is voluntary; however, most movie theater chains will not show unrated films. For an excellent introduction to the workings of the MPAA, see the documentary film This Film Is Not Yet Rated.
The ratings as they exist in 2007 are:
- G - General Audience - Movie suitable for all ages
- PG - Parental guidance suggested - Contains mature themes, may not be suitable for small children
- PG-13 - Parents strongly cautioned - Contains mature themes, may not be suitable for children under 13 years old
- R - Restricted - Contains mature themes (usually sex and/or violence). Children under 17 not admitted without an adult
- NC-17 - No children under 17 admitted.
- NR or Not Rated - Not an MPAA rating but, is found on back of some video cassettes and usually in commericals a couple months before the movie hits theateres and has not be reviewed yet.
When Jack Valenti became President of the MPAA in 1966, he was immediately faced with a problem regarding language in the film version of Edward Albee's play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). Valenti negotiated a compromise: The word "screw" was removed, but other language, including the phrase "hump the hostess," remained. The film received Production Code approval despite having language that was clearly prohibited.
The film Blowup (1967) presented a different problem. After the film was denied Production Code approval, MGM released it anyway, the first instance of an MPAA member company distributing a film that didn't have an approval certificate. There was little the MPAA could do about it.
Enforcement had become impossible, and the Production Code was abandoned entirely. The MPAA began working on a rating system, under which there would be virtually no restriction on what could be in a film. The MPAA film rating system went into effect on November 1, 1968 with four ratings: G, M, R, and X. In 1969 the Swedish film I Am Curious (Yellow) directed by Vilgot Sjöman, was initially banned in the U.S. for its frank depiction of sexuality; however this was overturned by the Supreme Court.
Prior to 1968
Prior to 1968, some large cities and states had public rating boards which determined whether films were suitable for display to the public in theatres. The United States Supreme Court in the case of Freedman v. Maryland 380 U.S. 51 (1965) would effectively end government operated rating boards when it would decide that a rating board could only approve a film; it had no power to ban a film. A rating board must either approve a film within a reasonable time, or it would have to go to court to stop a film from being shown in theatres. Other court cases would decide that since television stations are federally licensed, local rating boards have no jurisdiction over films shown on television. With the movie industry deciding to set up its own rating system, most state and local boards ceased operating.
In the United States, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), through the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA) issues ratings for movies. The system was instituted in November 1968 and is voluntary; however, most movie theater chains will not show unrated domestic films and most major studios have agreed to submit all titles for rating prior to theatrical release.
The M rating was changed to GP in 1970 and to the current PG in 1972. In 1984, in response to public complaints regarding the severity of horror elements in PG-rated titles such as Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the PG-13 rating was created as a middle tier between PG and R. In 1990 the X rating was replaced by NC-17, in part because the X rating was not trademarked by the MPAA and pornographic bookstores and theatres had used the X and XXX rating.
The ratings as they exist in 2007 are:
- G - General Audiences - All ages admitted. There is no content that would be objectionable to most parents. Very mild language may exist, including words such as "heck", "dumb", or "stupid". The G-rated film Cars uses the phrase "hillbilly hell" twice. In Ratatouille, the phrase "Welcome To Hell" occurs once, but it is in a satirical context. The G-rated film The Green Slime includes the word "bitch", but this is no longer considered acceptable in a G-rated film. The Disney classic Sleeping Beauty used the word "hell" with the sentence, "Now shall you deal with me, o Prince, and all the powers of hell!" A second Disney classic, The Hunchback of Notre Dame used the word "hell" several times. These films were otherwise appropriate and not suitable to be rated PG.
- PG - Parental Guidance Suggested - Some material may not be suitable for children. These films may contain some mild language, crude humor, sexual themes and/or violence. No drug content is present. No words such as "whore", "dick, "prick", "cock", "shit", "ass", "piss","bastard", "bitch", "asshole", "faggot', "damn", "penis", or "vagina" were heard in pre-1984 films. There are a few exceptions to this rule. For example, in All the President's Men (1976) the word "fuck" appeared seven times, in the movie A Bridge Too Far (1977) the word "fuck" appeared once, in The Kids Are Alright (1979) it appeared twice, and in The Right Stuff (1983) it appeared five times. Racial insults were also present in pre-1984 films. "The Song Remains" (1976) also had fuck appear five times. The 5 f-bombs were the only instances of profanity in that film. More recent films that are rated PG may have a few uses of mild language, as described above, but almost never have any uses of the word "fuck". Spaceballs (1987) is one exception. A few racial insults may also be heard.
- PG-13 - Parents Strongly Cautioned - Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. These films contain moderate sexuality, language, humor, and/or violence. Bloodshed is rarely present. Anaconda (1997) for example, had gore in it and almost enough to hit an R-rating but was PG-13 because the violence was limited. This is the minimum rating at which drug content is present. Marijuana is the minimum use for this rating. While PG-13 films usually have more profanity than PG films, it is not necessarily common. A film rated PG-13 for strong language may still avoid using the word "fuck". Bad News Bears was rated PG-13 for "rude behavior, language throughout, some sexuality and thematic elements" but did not use the word "fuck". Gunner Palace had the f-word appear 42 times but it got its PG-13 rating on appeal due to the fact that they thought it was important to see real life war footage. Two of the f-words are used sexually The Hip Hop Project had the f-word appear 17 times. This also got its PG-13 rating on appeal. Normally a PG-13 would not allow any more than 3 uses of fuck or use any f-bombs sexually. A rating of PG-13 simply means that a film contains more profane language and/or racial insults than the PG rating permits.
- R - Restricted - Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult 17 or older with photo ID. These films may contain strong profanity, graphic sexuality or nudity, strong violence, and/or gore, and drug use. A movie rated R for profanity often has more severe or frequent language than the PG-13 rating would permit. Rarely an R-rated movie can be similar to that of a PG-13. Appleseed was rated R for "some violence" and was just as violent as a PG-13. It was rated R was because of one instance of a head crushing. That doesn't mean that it is full of profanity. Georgia Rule for example was rated R for "sexual content and some language", and had the frequency of profanity as an average PG-13 rated movie. The reason why it was rated R in part for "some language" was because one of the 2 uses of fuck was used sexually. Some of the other words were also used in a harsher context than a PG-13 would permit. An R-rated movie may have more blood, gore, drug use, nudity, or graphic sexuality than a PG-13 movie would admit. The word "motherfucker" would be an example for language.
- NC-17 - No One 17 And Under Admitted (18 and older ONLY). These films contain excessive graphic violence, sex, aberrational behavior, drug abuse, strong language, or any other elements which, when present, most parents would consider too strong and therefore off-limits for viewing by their children and teens. NC-17 does not necessarily mean obscene or pornographic in the oft-accepted or legal meaning of those words. The Board does not and cannot mark films with those words. These terms are legally ambiguous, and their interpretation varies from case to case. The NC-17 designation implies that the Ratings Board has determined that due to the content of the film, it should be intended for adults only. NC-17 replaced the X rating in 1990. However many theater companies and local operators will not play NC-17 titles and some newspapers and magazines will not run ads for these films. Most NC-17 titles are go on limited release or onto video/DVD. Most NC-17 titles also have an R-rated version released on video/DVD.
- NR or Not Rated - Not an official MPAA rating. Used for independent or foreign films that are in limited release and have not been submitted to the MPAA for a rating classification. Also used by a film that is soon to be released and has trailers out for promotional purposes, but has not yet received a final rating. Advertisements for films with a pending rating contain the notice "This film is not yet rated". Most films released before 1968 carry this policy.
- M - For mature audiences (used 1969-71). This rating is now defunct. Most films given this rating were re-rated PG, PG-13, or R. It is not considered equivalent to any other rating, unlike GP, another defunct rating that is considered identical to PG. Bonnie and Clyde (1967) was an example of a M-rated title.
- GP - "General audiences- parental guidance suggested". In 1970/71, the MPAA found that the "M" rating was viewed by audiences as seedier and more adult than its intended meaning (to signify films containing material that may not be appropriate for some children). In response, the designation was changed to "GP." Shortly afterward the MPAA shortened it to PG-(Parental Guidance Suggested). THX-1138 (1971) was originally rated GP, though since re-rated R in its 2004 edition.
- SMA -"Suggested for mature audiences". Not an official rating, but an advisory used for a number of years prior to the MPAA ratings in 1968. This advisory appeared on certain films with mature themes or violence.
- X - The precursor to the current NC-17 rating that unlike the other ratings was not trademarked. Because it was not trademarked it became so widely used by the US pornography industry that the MPAA replaced it with the NC-17 rating in 1990.
For history and more details, see MPAA film rating system.